Nicholai Hel attempts a dangerous espionage mission in China while his French lover Solange Picard awaits his return in Paris. Nicholai Hel is a Soviet prisoner in the early years of World War II. Known for his skills in martial arts, mental disciplines, languages, and espionage, Hel is sought after by numerous governments in order to perform covert intelligence and assassination missions. The U.S. secret service courts Russian prison and war officials in order to negotiate for Hel's release. Thus, three years after serving decades of solitary confinement under the hostile conditions of Soviet prison, Hel is released into the hands of the American secret service.
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Hel moves to France for training and to learn about his first mission. His primary trainer is Solange Picard, a beautiful and seductive, yet deeply troubled Frenchwoman trained in espionage and targeted political assassination. She prepares Hel for his first mission, the assassination of Soviet commissioner Yuri Voreshenin. Voreshenin is currently stationed in China.
Hel assumes a new identity as French arms trader. He and Solange grow close as they learn about each other's childhood, upbringing, interests, and wartime experiences. During this training period, Solange openly mourns the death of her former lover, a French soldier who was captured and killed by Nazi forces during the war.
Nicholai and Solange become romantically attached. They try not to develop too strong an attachment: Nicholai's mission is extremely dangerous and the chances of him escaping are slim. In China, Nicholai locates his target and completes the assassination mission. However, he is captured by Soviet military officials in attempting to flee. The officials subject him to interrogation. When he refuses to talk, they prepare a prison torture chamber for him. Before the Soviet officials are able to detain him, a jujitsu-trained Chinese monk named Xue rescues Nicholai, saving him from certain death.
Xue helps Nicholai make his way back to France, where he and Solange enjoy a steamy and passionate reunion. Later that evening, loyal minions of the official whom Solange murdered years ago attack their home and demand that Solange come out. Solange understands and accepts the nature of their blood feud. To protect Nicholai from danger, she voluntarily leaves the home, into the arms of her murderers. They kill her to avenge the death of their lord. Nicholai is left alone, in a bereaved and vengeful state. He contemplates continuing the blood fuel by avenging Solange's death himself.
Best part of story, including ending:
The action is fast-paced but well-balanced with character development and internal conflict. The love story between Solange and Nicholai is well-integrated with the main espionage plot line. In addition, there are some interesting and well-integrated plot lines having to do with Nicholai's personality development: for example, he becomes more mature and less attached to material possessions as the story progresses. Overall, the story is very well-balanced.
Best scene in story:
She shares with Nicholai the story of her first sexual encounter. In order to avenge her lovers death, Solange sets out to slit the murderer's throat. He is a feudal lord with great political and economic power, so it's difficult to get close to him. After thinking on it for weeks, Solange devises a plan. She passes herself off as a prostitute and propositions him one night. The moment he leans in to embrace her, Solange slits his throat with a ritual bushido knife. Satisfied at avenging her lover's death, she watches the murderer die, then flees.
Opinion about the main character:
Nicholai Hel is complex and is actively evolving himself through the course of the story. He never stands still; instead, he's always moving forward into a greater expression of himself in terms of personality, vision, and goals.